x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Report finds Honduran prison was ripe for catastrophe

Internal Honduran government report says most inmates at the overcrowded Comayagua prison had never been charged, let alone convicted.

Family members of inmates who died during a fire in the Comayagua farm prison wait outside a morgue in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, for news of survivors of the world's deadliest prison fire in a century.
Family members of inmates who died during a fire in the Comayagua farm prison wait outside a morgue in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, for news of survivors of the world's deadliest prison fire in a century.

COMAYAGUA, HONDURAS // The prisoners whose scorched bodies were carried out piece by piece yesterday morning from a charred Honduran prison had been locked inside an overcrowded penitentiary where most inmates had never been charged, let alone convicted, according to an internal Honduran government report.

More than half of the 856 inmates of the Comayagua farm prison north of the Central American country's capital, Tegucigalpa, were either awaiting trial or being held as suspected gang members, according to a report sent by the Honduran government this month to the United Nations.

A fire started by an inmate tore through the prison on Tuesday night, burning and suffocating screaming men in their locked cells as rescuers desperately searched for keys. Officials confirmed 358 dead, making it the world's deadliest prison fire in a century.

Survivors told horrific tales of climbing walls to break the sheet metal roofing and escape, only to see prisoners in other cell blocks being burnt alive. Inmates were found stuck to the roofing, their bodies fused to the metal.

From the time firefighters received a call at 10.59pm local time, the rescue was marred by human error and conditions that made the prison ripe for catastrophe.

According to the report, obtained by the Associated Press, on any given day there were about 800 inmates in a facility built for 500. There were only 51 guards by day and just 12 at night — the case at the time of the fire.

The national prison system director, Danilo Orellana, declined to comment on the supervision or the crowded conditions in Comayagua, a prison farm where inmates grew corn and beans.

President Porfirio Lobo yesterday suspended Mr Orellana and other top prison officials.